On May 25, 2013, when the entire top brass of the Congress in Chhattisgarh was wiped out in a Maoist attack in Jhiram that left 29 people dead, there was only one survivor: Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma. The Congress leadership was glad he had escaped, yet, there were many conspiracy theories that did the rounds on how he could have survived the attack that killed the other leaders — Nand Kumar Patel, Mahendra Karma, Vidya Charan Shukla and Uday Mudliyar. Lakhma was even questioned, but five years and an NIA probe later, no proof of any conspiracy has emerged.
On Tuesday, December 25, 61-year-old Lakhma, who won his fifth straight election from Konta, became minister in the new Chhattisgarh Cabinet, and has since been given the excise and industry portfolio. Again, not without controversy. As minister hopefuls were being discussed, his lack of any formal schooling, and inability to read or write, had already become a conversation subject.
Yet, as Lakhma stood on stage to take oath as minister, he held a speech in his hand. In the end, however, he didn’t look at the paper before him, only repeated the oath after Governor Anandiben Patel.
Later, when asked how he intended to read files as minister, Lakhma pointed out that he had successfully functioned in the Assembly for 20 years, and was Deputy Leader of Opposition. “God has given me brains… I will work for poor and marginalised people and represent their interests,” Lakhma said.
In the Assembly, as in his speeches outside, Lakhma is known for bringing the house down with his theatrics. A video of Lakhma’s campaign in a village shows him telling an audience that he had fulfilled the promise of building a good road between Konta and Sukma — “as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks”, he said borrowing Lalu Prasad’s famous line, as people laughed at his antics.
Lakhma was born to an Adivasi family in Nagaras, 20 km from the district headquarters of Sukma, one of the districts most affected by Left-wing extremism in the country. In the late Eighties, he entered politics and fought his first Assembly election in 1998 from Konta as a Congress candidate. He defeated popular CPI leader Manish Kunjam, who had until then dominated the political scene of the region and who continues to be Lakhma’s primary political opponent in Konta.
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